Following an investigation by detectives of the Boston College tapes -- secret documents on the Northern Ireland Troubles -- prominent Belfast loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea was charged on Monday with two counts of murdering Catholics dating back more than 20 years.
The 65-year-old, suffering ill-health and wheelchair-bound, appeared in Belfast Magistrates Court and was given bail after being charged with the murders of John Devine in 1989 and John O’Hara in 1991.
Rea faces a total of 12 charges including membership of the outlawed loyalist paramilitary group Red Hand Commando. He denies all of the charges against him. He is also accused of two attempted murders as well as weapons offenses.
An undertaking known as the Belfast Project was launched in 2001 and was designed to become an oral history of The Troubles. Former loyalist and republican paramilitaries gave a series of candid interviews that chronicled their involvement in the Troubles. The project was directed by writer and journalist Ed Moloney, with the interviews carried out by two researchers.
Recordings of the interviews were held in a library at Boston College and became known as the Boston Tapes.
The deal was that the former terrorists would tell their stories in secret, on the understanding that the recordings and transcripts would only be made public after their deaths.
In 2011, the Police Service of Northern Ireland began a legal bid to gain access to the interviews held by the college.
There was no mention of the Boston Tapes in Rea’s court hearing. But he was arrested last week by officers from the Legacy Investigation Branch of the PSNI. The branch re-examined the murders after they gained access to the tapes.
John Devine, 37, was shot dead in west Belfast on July 23, 1989. He was sitting in his living room in his home with his 13-year-old son when three men forced their way in and shot him.
John O'Hara, 41, was murdered on Dunluce Avenue in south Belfast on April17, 1991. He was working as a taxi driver and had gone to pick up a passenger when he was approached by two masked men who fired several shots at the car, fatally injuring him.
As Rea was wheeled into the dock by prison staff, his family and some victims’ relatives were said to be in the public gallery.
Questioned by a defense lawyer, an investigating detective confirmed Rea made no admissions throughout 32 police interviews.
Rea’s lawyer stressed that all the charges against his client date back to before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Granting bail, District Judge Fiona Bagnall agreed to excuse Rea from attending the next hearing in eight weeks. He was ordered to surrender his passport and banned from any contact with prosecution witnesses.